Why The Joy Division Mickey Mouse Shirt Is A Dumb Discussion
  • TUESDAY, JANUARY 24, 2012

  • Posted by: Joe Puglisi

Corporate branding (of everything) is as old as time-- so when news broke of Disney borrowing Joy Division's timeless Unknown Pleasures art for a t-shirt, it came as no surprise. It's a dumb idea, but one that has inspired some pretty aggressive offense in the music community. These cries actually do the band's music a disservice, by reducing the band to a collection of references and associations, instead of acknowledging the influence, size and scope of their work. It's time fans of music learned the difference between offensive/egregious and just annoying.

Ian Curtis hung himself, and this event is a dark cloud over the legacy of the band, it's true. But to say that any cultural riff on their artwork is a slight on the weight of this story is unfairly attributing intention to a separate issue. Disney is not mocking the tragic circumstances of the band's end by celebrating their beginning. It's silly, but by no means offensive, to imitate the art.

Yes, if you look on Wikipedia, the phrase "Joy Division" has some nefarious meanings, but if we're going to boil down every word to its potential meaning, then Disney is going to have to do a lot of soul searching on other topics (did you know Pirates raped people?), and those references don't even have something like a popular band as a buffer/excuse. This is a straw-man argument against the shirt, which certainly does not attempt to say "Joy Division" in all of its various incarnations of meaning.

Taking something iconic and rephrasing it in Mickey Mouse is something Disney has done for decades as a way of bolstering their own legacy. And chances are Disney actually owns Joy Division in some way, since Disney owns a significantly large portion of business around the world (scratch that, did the research, it's more likely Access Industries, the guys who own WMG). You can hate the corporate giant, the monopoly of business, the fat-cats and cigars, but don't pretend it's offensive. Tawdry? Yes. Poor taste? Almost certainly. But "offensive" should be limited to the things that actually need addressing to make the world a less hateful place, not to appease the self-appointed protectors of iconic art integrity.

The real fallacy of the shirt is the conception of the target audience. What was the creative team thinking? Those too oblivious to get the reference will not understand the point of the shirt, and those who do see it, will almost certainly be turned off due to the nature of Joy Division fans. Catch-22, Disney.

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